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The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers Hardcover – January 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"Keith McFarland is about to be added to the list of the top business thinkers--Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Ken Blanchard and Stephen Covey.  If you buy only one business book in 2008, this one should be it." 
—Harvey Mackay, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

"Greatly needed! Features marvelous analysis of the principles that enable entrepreneurial enterprises to survive and thrive. It will inspire those in charge to become true leaders by rejecting 'small' goals rooted in ego and embracing visionary values that impart moral authority up and down the organizational ladder. I urge you to read this book: it's impressively researched, beautifully illustrated, and clearly written."
—Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“McFarland successfully tackles the ever-present question for ambitious entrepreneurs: just how do you go from small to big–and prosper?  This book has the makings of a classic.”
—Steve Forbes, President & CEO, Editor-in-Chief, Forbes

“THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY is a book that refreshingly and persuasively backs up -- with a wealth of hard evidence -- its contrarian claims regarding how to elevate a growing business to undreamt of levels…Think GOOD TO GREAT for those still small enough to think big.”
—Bob Eckert, Chairman & CEO, Mattel, Inc

"Disdainful of  too-easily-accepted 'common wisdom,' zealous at getting to the real facts of what makes some companies stall out and others thrive, Keith McFarland's THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY offers a goldmine of insight to anyone who's ever dreamed that the business they lead can become a 'player.'"
—The Honorable Jack Kemp, Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Former Vice-Presidential Candidate, Former US Congressman.

"A seriously great book…Drawing from an unusually detailed and careful study of both excellent and average performers, McFarland offers a set of powerful insights into building a breakthrough organization. Managers and employees alike will find his conclusions at once provocative and useful, since they focus on the ways that ordinary people combine to do extraordinary things.”
—William Barnett, Thomas M. Siebel Professor in Business, Leadership, Strategy & Organizations, Graduate Business School, Stanford University

“The Breakthrough Company rocks!  Start this book and you’ll find yourself looking forward to evenings, weekends and plane flights so you can read more!  More than even the iconic books in this category, this look at the key issues for growing companies provides a deep dive in terms of substance and real-world examples.  The margins of my own copy are quite literally covered with notes on ideas inspired by what McFarland has to say.”
—Brad Duea, President, Napster

This book is unique.  Every paragraph has tucked within it one jewel of insight—- and sometimes more. Fair warning to anyone who immerses himself in this analysis: you’ll find yourself underlining every page!”
—Bob Galvin, formerly, CEO Motorola

“THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY is in-your-gut persuasive. The best books, like this one, change your mind about something important–and with each rereading prove freshly inspirational.  McFarland's insightful drill-down doesn't just answer the questions that keep growth-company leaders up at night, it’s an invaluable compass pointing the way to best-in-class performance."
—Bob Geiman, Partner, Polaris Venture Partners

“In THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY Keith McFarland gives us the clever metaphor of the Business Bermuda Triangle. The book provides insightful observations and advice that will help guide a business leader through pivotal times of a company’s growth. McFarland’s focus on the realities of managing costs, listening to customers and responding with agility to external factors makes this book a compelling “how to” on thriving in today's business world.” 
—Shantanu Narayen, President and COO, Adobe Systems

“I loved THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY…it’s a cornerstone business book and a must read for any senior executive.  McFarland, backed by considerable research, describes the characteristics that allow a small to medium size company to grow into a breathrough company --one that’s significant, lasting and influences the market.”
—Caroline Little, CEO & Publisher, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI)

“Most business books really should really be articles–THE BREAKTHROUGH COMPANY is different.  As a CEO of a company approaching a billion in revenues, I can tell you that his book passes the ‘Monday Morning Test’–you’ll finish it with a list of things you’ll do differently on Monday morning.  I only wish Keith had published the book years ago!
—Scott Olivet, CEO, Oakley Inc.

"In an increasingly entrepreneurial economy, fast-growing, innovative firms will be absolutely central to future economic success. With keen insight and extensive analysis, McFarland helps to fill a gap in our
—Carl J. Schramm, President and CEO, Kauffman Foundation, and author of The International Imperative

About the Author

At the age of twenty-six, KEITH R. McFARLAND was named associate dean of one of the nation’s leading business schools. He went on to serve as CEO of two top technology firms prior to establishing McFarland Strategy Partners, where he has advised hundreds of growth companies as well as industry leaders such as Microsoft, Motorola, and Morgan Stanley. Currently, McFarland is a columnist for BusinessWeek. He and and his family live just downhill from the ski lifts at Snowbird, Utah. For more information about Keith and this book go to

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1st edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307352188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307352187
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #899,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Breakthrough Company does for smaller businesses that want to improve growth and profitability what Good to Great did for larger businesses. Keith R. McFarland has mostly duplicated the Good to Great research methodology except to look at those companies which have broken-out among smaller firms.

Like Good to Great, The Breakthrough Company focuses on leadership style and company culture. A number of the findings seemed no different from Good to Great, but different titles were used in this book.

The book suggests six fundamental transitions:

1. From having the leader be sovereign to putting the company's development ahead of the leader's interests.

2. Rather than making incremental improvements in response to market changes, make a few large bets that offer huge potential rewards.

3. Instead of having the company's culture be determined by whoever is there, build a company around an integrity-filled commitment to doing a good job.

4. Go from succeeding by being small and agile to succeeding because of proprietary advantages you develop.

5. Stop relying solely on internal ideas by getting help from wherever you can.

6. Encourage people internally to challenge assumptions in constructive ways rather than blindly following a narrow vision.

If you like your information compact, each chapter is summarized in detail at the end. You could get an overview of the book that way in about 30 minutes and decide if you want to read more.

So what is he really describing? To me, it all sounded like continuing business model innovation . . . an area I've studied and written about for 30 years. Yet, the book doesn't describe the business model innovation literature.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jack on February 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Did I say this was repetitive? Its repetitive. Obnoxiously so. I'm not sure why.

Other than that, the book was decent. It gave eight or ten insights into organizational behavior, generating certain responses from leadership behavior and rallying around a given mission.

I'm not sure it is quite as prescriptive as the author may intend even if the chapters were oriented to do so; however, there are some good stories about different organizations and how they achieved growth.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David B. Haynes on January 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The book is the result of an ambitious research effort on the characteristics of middle market firms that crossed over to high levels of sustained financial performance. In contrast to texts like In Search of Excellence or Good To Great, the book focuses on the practices and capabilities necessary for non-behemoth firms to achieve success.

The concepts contained in the book have had a substantive impact on my approach to strategy formulation. The insights can be put to immediate use - versus theoretical constructs with little practical application. By way of example, McFarland explores the dynamic of moving from a founder/leader centric organization to one with shared responsibility for accomplishment.

I was pleased by how well each chapter offers an insiders perspective of the challenges of a entrepreneurial business. And, delighted by the power of the insights to evolve a leadership team toward greater health.

In summary, McFarland has crafted an excellent book for business leaders. I highly recommend it.
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25 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder why the successes of companies featured in books like "In Search of Excellence," "Good to Great," and "Built to Last" are so ephemeral? The authors almost always violate basic principles of statistical analysis, and so does Keith McFarland.

A major problem is that not all important determinants of organizational performance can be objectively measured - eg. employee morale, organizational leadership, strategy, competitors actions (or lack thereof), etc. Instead, the subjective impressions that are used are strongly influenced by the company's current financial success - creating spurious correlations and invalid conclusions.

Additional significant problems include determining cause vs. effect in correlation data (helped through longitudinal studies - unfortunately these are infrequent), forgetting that the real importance of measured factors may be overstated through correlation with non-measured factors, the "delusion of connecting the winning dots" (studying only successful firms will not identify how they differ from the unsuccessful), and forgetting that useful performance measures identify relative (not just absolute) performance.

Global competition, increasing financial market demands, and much more rapid technological change create enormous pressures to identify the "secrets" of business excellence. This demand has created bookshelves and magazines full of case studies, some seemingly quite thorough and sophisticated. ("The Breakthrough Company," unfortunately, is one of the worst.) Unfortunately, lack of statistical rigor frequently reduces their value to that of bedtime stories. There is no substitute for good strategy and execution, and in my opinion those lessons are best learned from studying the work of Jack Welch, Larry Bossidy, and Lou Gerstner.
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